Discovering Khun Chang Khun Phaen

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A few days I ago, I posted this:

Exuberant at unpacking the library…finding books I have been missing (and wanting) for a while. Just unboxed my copy of Khun Chang Khun Phaen, the Thai epic. Relieved I hadn’t lost it. Time to sit in a comfy chair and read for a bit.

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Now, an update on my (re)discovery of Khun Chang Khun Phaen: I heart this epic so much right now.

1. I have a weakness for long epics anyway. (Yes, I’m looking at you, magnificent 20+ volume I-executed-a-forest-just-to-get-printed Mahabharata).

2. Reading it aloud soothes Círdan. Because nothing says daddy time like love affairs and warfare in sixteenth-century Siam.

3. YOU GUYS, the first 100 pages are about families.   . Those chapters are about childbirth and toddlers and getting kids to eat things they don’t want to eat and about fleeing with your son through the woods because your government wants to enslave you. And about the discomfort of sleeping in trees. And about outlaws riding war elephants into town while spahgetti Western music plays in the background (or that orchestral score might just be in my head) and about standing in front of a charge of water buffaloes with just a spear in your hand and true grit. And about getting an omen of your death and saying goodbye tearfully to your kid the next morning because otherwise you might not get to. It’s a story about parents. I haven’t enjoyed an ancient epic that much since the Odyssey (which is also about wives and husbands and kids and parents). This is no Iliad or Beowulf (not that I don’t love both of those). This is the Epic of Oh Shit Your Father’s Not Coming Home and There Are Guys With Torches Coming This Way And We Have To Go Right Now RIGHT NOW SON And Crap Now We’re in The Forest And You’re Throwing a Tantrum And What The Hell Do I Feed You Out Here, I Used To Be Rich, I Have No Idea, Don’t Cry Son, We’ll Make It.

And I can totally get into that kind of story.

Stant Litore

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and baby

Let’s Put Some Good Back in the World

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Hi everyone.

I know this week has been filled with evil news, and with feelings of rage and grief and helplessness. But it is easy to put some good back into the world.

As I mentioned early this summer (before a chaotic and swift move, and baby’s arrival!), I am giving one half of the proceeds of sales from my novella RASHA’S LETTER (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B06Y59H2YN) to Syrian refugee families through Humanwire. I’d like to invite you to help (either by buying a copy of the novella, or by contributing directly).

I don’t make very much on this novella yet, unfortunately, but I just sent $100 from royalties over to this campaign (http://www.humanwire.org/cause/sanaa/) to get Sanaa and her baby the supplies they need to survive this winter. This is Sanaa’s story:

“When ISIS invaded our town, Tal Abyad – Al Rakka, we were too afraid to stay. They started arresting men and forcing them to join their groups. They started killing people right in front of our eyes and hung their heads in public. We haven’t seen this in our lives! Not even in movies. They also didn’t allow us to leave outside the town. One night, the neighbor’s home was invaded by ISIS and they arrested the men and killed them. At that moment we decided that we should leave as soon as possible. My mom took the lead and went to one of their offices and she created a story that one of my siblings was so sick and in need of urgent surgery, so we needed to go to Damascus. This is how we left our town. We remained two days in Damascus then we climbed the mountains until we arrived in Lebanon.

“Now Sanaa, her husband Ahmad and their newborn are stuck in a tent near the border of Syria in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. With winter set, they listed a heater/stove, heating oil and food as their top neede. They also listed milk and diapers, mattresses, blankets, pillows and ground cover. The couple said they are anxious to return to Syria one day when it becomes safe again.”

That sounds very much like my personal nightmare, and winter in a tent in the mountains with a newborn is no joke. I want to help. If you would like to help, you can do so directly here: http://www.humanwire.org/cause/sanaa/(Or, again, buy Rasha’s Letter – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B06Y59H2YN – and I will send half the proceeds over.)

Most of us cannot be Sahira, the time-traveling superheroine you meet in Rasha’s Letter, who can appear in the middle of a street and cut down the forces of ISIS. But though we cannot do what Sahira does, there’s a lot we can do.

I am very impressed with Humanwire. They are a nonprofit local to Colorado, and they connect people directly with refugee families, and 100% of what’s raised goes to those specific families unless you specify otherwise. It’s not about pity. It’s about helping a family get back on its feet. Most of us (I hope) will never have to worry about our home and our entire town being ripped away, or about having to make it through the winter with a newborn in a tent in the mountains. But there are families just like my own who are enduring just that, right now.

So come join me in helping them, if you would:

— Support Sanaa, her husband, and her newborn directly:
http://www.humanwire.org/cause/sanaa/

— Support by buying Rasha’s Letter (50% of proceeds):
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B06Y59H2YN

— Read the stories of other families on Humanwire’s website:
www.humanwire.org

“Freely we have received; freely, give.”

Thank you.

Stant Litore

Elisha

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Oh to have the visions of Elisha, and see the chariot of fire, and the horses of fire blazing across the land; to hold up my hand to shield my eyes and cry, “abba! abba!” The courage I would have then! and the tears, weeping at such beauty.

But, living a goodly long time after the ages of myth, I will encounter the Creator of the heavens and the earths in the sound of a baby’s giggle.

Stant Litore

What We’ve Forgotten

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In reference to the article “4 Facts That Show That ‘Head’ Does Not Mean ‘Leader’ in 1 Corinthians 11:3″:

Research of this kind fascinates me. So much of how we translate and interpret the Bible is driven entirely by Roman ideologies and Roman cultural obsessions that we have inherited, and by the fact that Greek and Hebrew have been filtered to us through Latin. (Even our modern Greek dictionaries and lexicons tend to offer Latinate English vocabulary for translations.) Thus we almost completely misunderstand what the New Testament means by ‘truth,’ as I get into here in my post on aletheia.

Thus: we completely miss that the diatribe against homosexuality in Romans 1 is a paraphrase of Paul’s opponents in the Roman church and a parody of their over-the-top judgmental rhetoric (the whole point of Romans 1-2 is to dismantle the idea that Christianity and judgmental rhetoric are at all compatible). You can read a bit more on that here. And, bizarrely, we never think to question why this issue only comes up when Paul is speaking to Rome, the ancient world’s most homophobic culture, and never once when he is speaking to various Greek cities in which homosexual and bisexual relations, and an array of gender performances are both normal and expected.

Thus: we mis-translate passages on gender in the Pauline letters in a way that’s completely ahistorical (but that serves the status quo in our own society), as the early church was spread, organized, and facilitated by women. The connection of “head” to “leader” or “authority” is a specifically Roman idiom that we’ve inherited. That idiom didn’t exist in Koine Greek.

Thus: we mis-translate passages as instructing women to ‘submit’ to their husbands, when ‘hupotasso’ doesn’t mean to submit or to obey; it means to support, to lift up, to uplift. ‘Obey’ is a completely different word in Greek (hupakoe — and even ‘hupakoe’ doesn’t mean ‘obey’ in the military, hierarchical Roman sense; it means to listen attentively, to heed). And we miss the context (because we’re fond of reading communal letters in isolated little chapters and verses and chunks), so we forget that first-century Christian women are being asked to ‘hupotasso’ their spouses because most of their spouses were not Christian, most early Christians were women, and Christian wives of non-Christian men had to figure out how the heck to deal with that situation. It is situationally specific advice about not trying to convert the spouse but instead bring love to the table. It has nothing to do with obedience at all, and the verses that follow roll out an idea borrowed from Judaism that was profoundly subversive in Rome’s ultra-patriarchy: the idea that women “are fellow heirs in the grace of life.” Rome takes the idea of heirs very seriously. In Roman law and custom, women were not heirs; women were property. This idea of “fellow heirs” was radical and threatening to the Roman patriarchy.

Thus: we misread Genesis 2 as describing women as a “helper” sex. But “helper” (ezer genegdo) in Hebrew does not mean maid or servant; it means something a bit more similar to the modern phrase “partner in crime.” It is also the only case in the Old Testament where the word is used to describe women. In every other case, the word is used for God. Chavah (Eve) is a helper in the same sense that God is a helper. It is our post-Roman anachronism that translates ezer genegdo as “the help,” the servant class.

A fascinating look into the first and second centuries, if you’re ever curious, is the book God’s Self-Confident Daughters. Or, if you’d like something short to read, try “Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers,” which you can find here.

You will be awed (and horrified) at how thoroughly the history of agrarian Europe’s first feminist movement was excised, erased, and finally hijacked and replaced by the Roman patriarchy.

There is a wealth of scholarship on this and has been for years, and there is more all the time, but … for reasons that are probably self-evident … this research rarely trickles into mainstream religious culture.

The reason that Rome was so fervently opposed to Christianity in the first and second century was that Christianity was seen as a profound threat to family values. “Family values,” in the sense that we usually mean it, was originally a Roman idea.) Roman law required women to have children and to do so by a certain age; Christianity created large sisterhoods of unmarried women (the “holy widows,” who were not secluded at that time but socially active, running nonprofits and neighborhood schools).

Rome placed the man in ownership of the household and gave him – at one time – the legal right to execute family members who shamed the family; Christianity undercut that structure. Rome relied on a strict caste system; Christianity insisted on the essential equality of all people regardless of ethnicity, gender, or social class (while exhorting its members at times to obey the law of the land to the greatest extent possible, because Roman torture-death penalties were no joke, and though there were things they were willing to die for, these people wanted to survive – so Christians found loopholes, lots of them, like the legal loopholes that allowed for women to enter holy sisterhoods and gain a marriage exemption if they were priestesses. And since in early Christian doctrine, every Christian woman was a priestess of Christ, this provided a very large loophole, one the government usually couldn’t close because doing so would disrupt other Roman religious institutions that were seen as supportive of the state).

Pliny whines to Emperor Trajan in the early years of the second century about his work torturing ‘two slave women, who in their church are officials.’ The underlying tone of his letter is a frustrated “What the hell, Governor, they have slave girls leading their religion.” Christians were called “the atheists,” because they worshipped at no shrines or temples. And most of all, they were hated because 1) the religion had its origin in foreign immigrants, especially groups of first-century emigrating Jews (Rome was very anti-Semitic), and 2) Roman women converted in massive numbers, and then taught Roman children their superstitious, unmanly new faith. Christianity, to the Romans, was a woman’s religion and “the eunuch’s faith,” prizing compassion over honor, and love over duty, and relationships over hierarchy; there were popular superstitions and prejudices that men who converted out of love for their wives would lose their virility.

We miss out on an exciting episode in history that has tremendous relevance to our own time — a moment when a radically egalitarian ideology and way of life threatened to upend hierarchical and oppressive structures — because men a few centuries later found it useful and convenient to erase that history while appropriating some aspects of the early faith in service to power. (This may sound far-fetched…that in three and a half short centuries, a religious institution might come to stand for many things that were the exact opposite of the teachings three centuries before, but it actually happens all the time and in much briefer spans of history … just look at the way Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words today are appropriated and twisted to sound like they support the status quo, in fact to support statements that are the very opposite of MLK’s arguments and convictions. Ditto, the American founding fathers.) Mistranslate or misconstrue a few abstract concepts in ways that support the status quo, or rip a few passages out of their context, and you can turn a radical faith movement or a new ideology into a nice, tidy, stagnant institution pretty quickly.

We miss out on an exciting episode in our history because certain men a few centuries later chose to erase it and rewrite and replace it (in some cases literally chiseling the faces of female bishops off of monuments), and we still believe their version. Their version still drives our politics, our prejudices, and our cultural norms. But their version was a hijacking of something that looked very different, something worth remembering, something inspiring and provocative, something that calls into question who we think we are.

This is part of what I write about. (Some of it, you can find in my novels, like What Our Eyes Have Witnessed; some of it, you can find here on this blog: https://stantlitore.com/category/radical-reading/)

Stant Litore

Charlottesville

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Charlottesville hurts more than I know how to say.

This is what happens when we treat racism, white supremacy, and nationalism as something that can be ‘tolerated’ or ignored or just talked down. It’s what happens when we don’t listen to our neighbors when they tell us that black lives matter and they need our help. It’s what happens when the vandalism at the mosque down the street is someone else’s problem, not ours. It’s what happens when we see a gunman kill fifty people at an LGBTQ+ dance club and we still watch from the sidelines while bathroom bills and gay discrimination bills get passed. It’s what happens when we don’t take fascism and hate seriously, when we treat it as a mere joke. It’s what happens when we ignore the radicalization of white youth, or when we let racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia just slide. It’s what happens when we stand by and let violence occur in our absence for year after year. Our complacency adds up to this.

Today hurts too much.

If you think this is it … that this is the worst it can get … you are wrong. I wish you weren’t, but you are.

Stand up for your neighbors.

A Response to Richard Dawkins’ Open Letter

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Dawkins

Pictured here: An excerpt from Richard Dawkins’ angry response to an American radio station that canceled a talk with him because of protests from the local Islamic community over Dawkins’ continuing abusive speech about Muslims. In his open letter, Dawkins claims loudly that he differentiates between Islamism (meaning fundamentalism) and Islam, and challenges the radio station to provide examples of any anti-Muslim speech from him. The immediate problem being that the very same paragraph contains multiple examples of Dawkins failing to differentiate between Islamism and Islam, when he speaks contemptuously of Islamic “scholars” (the quotation marks are his) and decries the “mysogyny and homophobia of Islam.” Then he demands, “Why does Islam a get free pass?”

Sir, you can’t have it both ways in the same paragraph. As one academic to another, I can tell you that this is exactly why Islamic communities, many of whom have come under literal attack here in the U.S., are saying that you engage in hate speech against Islam. These are examples of why people think you are engaging in bigoted rhetoric and not just critique of fundamentalist movements as you claim.

I admire Dawkins’ work on popular science very much (his “Greatest Show on Earth” book on evolution is an eloquent, intellectual, and well-argued book, and one of my favorite works of popular science), but when he begins ranting about religion – especially Islam – his rhetoric gets very sloppy and he resorts to the kind of sweeping generalizations that he eschews in his other work.

And in America right now, doing that hurts the lives of American citizens.

That’s why an American radio show is cancelling your talk, Mr. Dawkins. It isn’t because they want to give “Islam” a “free pass”; it’s because the kind of rhetoric I underlined right here in your letter gets mosques burned in Texas and gets hijabi women attacked on subways in Oregon and gets Americans killed.

And as an academic, you know better; this is an intellectual laziness that carries a cost in lives and that we simply can’t afford.

Stant Litore